Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF

short way,' and reconverted his pupil by means of a sound flogging—the only just one, Coleridge was pleased in after-life to say, he ever received from his master. This was doubtless but a fond and passing conceit, for elsewhere he blesses the floggings which saved him from being emasculated into a “juvenile prodigy.' Yet prodigy he must have been, if his own and Lamb's reminiscences are to be accepted-accepted even with a substantial grain of salt ; how he read straight through a whole circulating library, of which he was made free by a singular incident (his account of which is needlessly romantic); and how he invaded the murky caves of the third-century Neo-Platonists with his boyish rush-light.

Truth there must be, and even something of fact, however, in Lamb's famous passage—'Come back into memory, like as thou wert in the dayspring of thy fancies, with hope like a fiery column before thee—the dark pillar not yet turnedSamuel Taylor Coleridge-Logician, Metaphysician, Bard !-How have I seen the casual passer through the cloisters stand still, entranced with admiration (while he weighed the disproportion between the speech and the garb of the young Mirandula), to hear thee unfold, in thy deep and sweet intonations, the mysteries of Jamblichus, or Plotinus (for even in those years thou waxedst not pale at such philosophic draughts), or reciting Homer in his Greek, or Pindar—while the walls of the old Grey Friars re-echoed to the accents of the inspired charity boy !'2

We hear nothing of games, but Coleridge enjoyed bathing excursions in the summer holidays. Once, as he told Gillman, he swam across the New River in his clothes, and let them dry on his back, with the consequence, apparently, that · full half his time from seventeen to eighteen was passed in the sick - ward of Christ's Hospital, afflicted with jaundice and rheumatic fever.' 3 Coleridge was doubtless rendered the more susceptible by the effects of his runaway adventure eight years before. If the tradition that Genevieve was addressed to the daughter of his school nurse,' the attachment may have been formed during this illness

When sinking low the sufferer wan
Beholds no hand outstretcht to save,

I've seen thy breast with pity heave,
And therefore love I you, sweet Genevieve !

He has dated the poem 'æt. 14,' and the illness ‘17-18,' but Coleridge was never sure of his own age, and such figures are, as a rule, untrustworthy. According, however, to his own statement 4 he was about sixteen (1788) when he made the acquaintance of the Evans family—a connection destined to exercise an important influence on his career.

About this time he became acquainted with a widow lady, whose son, says he, ‘I, as upper boy, had protected, and who therefore looked up to me, and taught me what it was to have a mother. I loved her, as such. She had three daughters, and, of course, I fell in love with the eldest [Mary]. From this time to

1 Presumably by way of Thomas Taylor's 2 'Christ's Hospital five-and-thirty years ago,' translations (which he once described as diffi- in Essays of Elia. cult Greek transmuted into incomprehensible 3 Gillman's Life, p. 33. English '), though he unblushingly asserts (Biog.

4 Gillman's Life, p. 28. Lit. i. 249) that he had translated the eight hymns of Synesius from the Greek into English 5 Afterwards a fellow-clerk with Lamb in the Anacreontics before his fifteenth year!

India House.

my nineteenth year, when I quitted school for Jesus, Cambridge, was the era of poetry and love.' In 1822 he said in a letter to Allsop1 : And oh ! from sixteen to nineteen what hours of paradise had Allen and I in escorting the Miss Evanses home on a Saturday, who were then at a milliner's, ... and we used to carry thither, on a summer morning, the pillage of the flower-gardens within six miles of town with sonnet or love-rhyme wrapped round the nosegay.'

The latter reminiscence reflects more accurately than the former the earlier relations between Coleridge and the Evans sisters. Of the letters he wrote to the family from Cambridge—which doubtless were numerous—five have been preserved, the latest being dated “Feb. 10, 1793. They are all strictly family letters, 3 such as

1793 a son and brother would write, and are addressed indifferently to Mrs. Evans, Anne, and Mary. The only exception noticeable is that it is to Mary he addresses all his rhymes. But there have been preserved also two letters addressed to Mary towards the end of 1794, in one of which Coleridge first declares himself her

94 lover, a passion which he says he has ‘for four years endeavoured to smother.' These letters will receive notice in their proper place—here it is enough to show that in all probability Coleridge was fancy-free until the end of 1790. As Mrs. Evans was as a mother or an aunt, so were her daughters as his sisters or cousins. Unless we are to believe implicitly the date and occasion of Genevieve, it is clear that “Poetry' (or, at all events, verse) preceded Love' in Coleridge's development, for the contributions to Boyer's album 5 begin with 1787 ; and the dates attached to these are the only ones which can be depended on. But it was not until the end of 1789 that the poetical faculty in Coleridge was quickened. The school exercises were regarded by him strictly as such, and at this particular period poetry had become “insipid,'6 and everything but metaphysics distasteful.

From this preposterous pursuit ’ he was auspiciously withdrawn,' first by San accidental introduction to an amiable family' (Evanses); next, and chiefly,' by another accidental introduction—to the poetry of Bowles. 'I had just entered on my seventeenth year [October 1789] when the Sonnets of Mr. Bowles, twenty in number, and just then published in a quarto pamphlet, were first made known and presented to me.' The donor was his friend Middleton, who had left Christ's Hospital for Cambridge a year before. These mild sonnets stirred Coleridge. • My earliest acquaintances will not have forgotten the undisciplined eagerness and impetuous zeal with which I laboured to make proselytes. ... As my school finances did not permit me to purchase copies, I made within less than a year and a half more than forty transcriptions.' as presents for friends. One cannot help X regretting that the inspiration did not come more directly from Cowper or Burns, or from both ; but I confess my inability to join in the expression of amused wonder which has so often greeted Coleridge's acknowledgments of his obligation to Bowles. Had he first met with Cowper, or with Burns, doubtless Coleridge would have been less strongly impressed by Bowles--certainly less strongly impressed by his novelty

8

1 Letters, etc., 1864, p. 170.

2 Now in the Fonthill Collection. See 'Note 31,' p. 565.

3 He seems to have been called 'Brother Coly' by the Evanses.

4 A Wish, the two poems which follow it, and the Complaint of Ninathóma, pp. 19, 20.

5 The book into which the headmaster of Christ's caused his boys to transcribe their best

exercises. See ‘Note 3,' p. 561.

6 Biog. Lit. 1817, i. 16.

7 Probably the second edition, which contained twenty-one sonnets. The first was anonymous : Fourteen Sonnets, Elegiac and Descriptive, written during a Tour, Bath, MDCCLXxxix. Quarto.

8 Biog. Lit. i. 13.

or originality ; perhaps (but only perhaps) less influenced by his work as a whole. As a matter of fact, however, it happened that the first breath of Nature, unsophisticated by the classical tradition, came to Coleridge from Bowles's sonnets ; and he recognised it at once. Nor was he alone in this. Four years after, the same sonnets captivated Wordsworth. He first met with them as he was starting on a walk, and kept his brother waiting on Westminster Bridge until, seated in one of its recesses, he had read through the little quarto. Of course, much that Coleridge and Wordsworth saw in Bowles's sonnets cannot now be seen; but surely, even to eyes looking across the century, they exhibit qualities, both positive and comparative, which explain sufficiently the influence they exercised.

How this influence affected Coleridge is set forth in the opening chapters of the Biographia, and is best illustrated by the youthful poems of 1790 and following years,

which can now be read in something which approximates to chronological order. In ? one of the earliest, the Monody on Chatterton (1790), he passed beyond his master,

but the new influence pervades others of the same year. The old leaven was not purged all at once, and throughout there is discernible more of the besetting weakness of the new, as represented by the model, and less of the individuality it helped to emancipate, than we could have wished or expected.

II. CAMBRIDGE

On the 12th January 1791 the Committee of Almoners of Christ's Hospital 91 appointed Coleridge to an Exhibition at Jesus College, Cambridge, on the books

of which he was entered as a sizar on the 5th February. His discharge from the school is dated September 7th, 1791, and he went into residence at Jesus in the following month. He became a pensioner on November 5, and matriculated on March 26, 1792. The Official List of [C.H.] University Exhibitioners' states that Coleridge was sent to Jesus College, Cambridge, as the prospect of his preferment to the Church would be very favourable if he were preferred to that College.' His Exhibition from the Hospital (besides the usual allowance of £40) was fixed at £40 per annum for the first four years, and £30 for each of the three remaining years of the then usual period of C.H. Exhibition tenure. Mr. Leslie Stephen states, 1 on official authority, that Coleridge obtained one of the Rustat scholarships belonging to Jesus which are confined to the sons of clergymen. He received something from this source in his first term, and about £25 for each of the years 1792-94. He became also a Foundation scholar on 5th June 1794.'

There is no certainty that Coleridge's London school-life was ever broken by holiday visits to his old home. A letter to his mother of 1785 suggests a bare

possibility that he went to Ottery in 1784; if we are to accept the family date of 1789 given to Life (p. 7), and that of 1790 to Inside the Coach and Devonshire Roads (p. 10), he must have spent some of the holidays of these years at Ottery. But these family dates seem little to be depended on. There is, however, no reasonable doubt that Coleridge went home in 1791, between school and college, or that Happiness was written at Ottery in that year. In some cancelled lines of that doleful poem he drew an unflattering portrait of himself, confessing to 'a heavy eye' and a 'fat vacuity of face.'2 1 Dictionary of National Biography; Art. 'S. T. Coleridge.'

2 See ‘Note 29,' p. 564.

92

Of his University career we know little. On entering, he found Middleton at Pembroke College, and to this old school patron and protector' he probably owed the stimulus which made him an industrious student for the first year or two. He certainly began well, for in his first year (1792) he gained the Browne Gold Medal for a Sapphic Ode on the Slave Trade ; 1 and in the winter of the same year he was selected by Porson as one of a “short leet' of four (out of seventeen or eighteen) to compete for the Craven Scholarship. This was gained by Samuel Butler, afterwards headmaster of Shrewsbury and Bishop of Lichfield ; but as Coleridge's failure has been reported to have depressed his spirits and injuriously affected his future, it may be mentioned that this view receives no confirmation from his letter to Mrs. Evans, written immediately after the award.

Unfortunately Middleton took his degree and left Cambridge in 1792, and there seems to have been no one to take his place as a steadying influence. In a letter to the Evanses of February 14, 1792, Coleridge speaks of a wine-party he attended, at which three or four freshmen were most deplorably drunk.' On the way home two of them fell into the gutter, and one who was being assisted 'generously stuttered out’ a request that his friend might be saved as he (the speaker) could swim.' Another, written a year later, describes himself as 'general' of a party of six undergraduates who 'sallied forth to the apothecary's house with the fixed determination to thrash him for having performed so speedy a cure' on Newton, their mathematical tutor, who had been half-drowned in a duck-pond a week before. The same letter announces that he is taking lessons on the violin in self-defence against fiddling and fluting neighbours. It also contains this passage — Have you read Mr. Fox's letter to the Westminster Electors? It is quite the political Go at Cambridge, and has converted many souls to the Foxite Faith.' Coleridge himself had already been converted to a political faith far in advance of Fox. C. V. le Grice 3 describes Coleridge's rooms at this time as crowded by friends who came to hear their host declaim, and repeat whole passages verbatim’ from the political pamphlets which then swarmed from the press. The rooms were also a centre for the sympathisers with William Frend, a Fellow of Jesus, who in May 1793 was tried in the ViceChancellor's Court for having too freely expressed liberal views in politics, and Unitarian opinions in religion. Coleridge made himself dangerously conspicuous at the trial. In October of that year Christopher Wordsworth entered at Trinity (of which he was afterwards Master), and speedily became acquainted with Coleridge. 4 In November they joined with some other undergraduates in forming a Literary Society. On the 5th the two discussed a review in the current Monthly of the poems of Christopher's brother William, when Coleridge spoke of the esteem in which my brother was holden by a Society at Exeter,5 . . . Coleridge talked Greek, Max. Tyrius, he told us, and spouted out of Bowles. On the 7th he repeated his Lines on an Autumnal Evening (p. 24) and had them criticised. On the 13th the Society x met for the first time at Wordsworth's. rooms. • Time before supper was spent in hearing Coleridge repeat some original poetry (he having neglected to write his essay, which is therefore to be produced next week).'

But there is no record of that essay having ever been read, and it is probable that

Exhibition to Trinity.

4 See ‘Note 41,' p. 567.
5 See an allusion to such a Society in Biog.

1 See ' APPENDIX B,' p. 476, and ‘Note 248,' p. 653.

2 Failing to obtain a coveted Fellowship, which was withheld on account of his 'republicanism.'

3 Gentleman's Niagazine, Dec. 1834. He had come up, a year after Coleridge, with a C.H.

Lit. i. 19.

6 As the youthful Samuel Johnson had astonished his friends with Macrobius.

93

before the Society's next meeting Coleridge had left Cambridge. Of the immediate causes of his flight nothing positive is known. Gillman 1 attributes it to debts incurred for the furnishing of his college rooms ; Coleridge himself ? to his debts generally, denying passionately that (as had been believed by his family) they had been incurred disreputably; Cottle 3 quotes Coleridge as having told him he ran away in a fit of disgust arising from Mary Evans's rejection of his addresses. It is not improbable that debts and disappointed love combined to drive him out of his course. Debts, however contracted, were evidently weighing on him at the time The naïf appeal To Fortune 4 seems to point to an attempt to retrieve his position by means of a lottery ticket. In one of his accounts of the adventure Coleridge speaks of having spent only a couple of days in London, in another he gives himself a week. The latter is probably the correct version, for he may have come up to await the lottery drawing, and, having drawn a blank, he apparently could not face a return to Cambridge. On the 2nd December 1793 he enlisted under the name of Silas Tomkyn Comberbach, in the 15th, or King's Regiment of Light Dragoons. Two days later he was inspected, attested, and sworn at Reading, the headquarters of the regiment. His Majesty's military needs must have been urgent at this time, for Comberbach was one of the few Englishmen of any degree who could truthfully confess to having had all his life a violent antipathy to soldiers and horses. Of course, the dragoonship was a sorry farce. He could not stick on his horse ; he could not even clean it, or the accoutrements. But he could charm his comrades into taking these latter duties off his hands by writing their love-letters, telling them stories, and nursing them when they were sick. In a little more than two months Coleridge, feeling that he had had enough of it, revealed his whereabouts to certain of his old cronies who were still at Christ's, and they in turn confided the intelligence to another-Tuckett, by name—who had gone up to Cambridge. About the same time the dragoon summoned courage to write to his favourite brother George, and, after some confidential correspondence with him, a properly humble and dutiful letter was concocted, and addressed, on February 20, 1794, by Samuel to the head of the family, his brother Captain James Coleridge. His discharge was procured, but not until the roth of April. The many romantic stories afloat as to the circumstances of Coleridge's release have little, if any, foundation. Miss Mitford's Captain Ogle may have rendered some kindly assistance, but the caged bird himself took the initiative, and the business of uncaging him, no doubt a troublesome one, was carried through by his brothers.

No time was lost by the prodigal son in returning to his Alma Mater - for according to Jesus College Register it was on the 12th April that he was admonished by the Master in the presence of the Fellows. No further notice of the escapade seems to have been taken by the College authorities, nor any report made to those at Christ's Hospital, so that Coleridge got off very cheaply. Before the middle of June, and in company with J. Hucks (who afterwards became a Fellow of Catherine Hall), Coleridge went to Oxford on a visit, which was prolonged to three weeks, to his old schoolfellow Allen, who had gone up two years before to University College with a C.H. Exhibition. One of Allen's friends was Robert Southey of Balliol, who thus wrote to Grosvenor Bedford on June 12th : Allen is with us

sold about this time to the Morning Chronicle

for a guinea. 3 Early Recoll. ii. 54 ; and Rem. p. 279.

5 Gillman's Life, pp. 57 and 64. 4 Page 27 ; see also ‘Note 42,' p. 567. This See the letter (or part of it), in Brandl's Life probably was the poem Stuart tells us Coleridge of Coleridge, p. 65, where it was first printed.

94

1 Life, p. 42.
2 Ib. p. 64.

6

« VorigeDoorgaan »